5 wines for Thanksgiving dinner
Game meats, sweet sauces, flavorful spices, savory vegetables, and butter… food lovers celebrate the seasonal dishes of Autumn for its comforting warmth and diversity of flavor. The apex of the season, the Thanksgiving feast, is a hodgepodge of nostalgic American dishes served to an equally eclectic group of people. The host is under pressure, cooking and stylizing the holiday meal to the exact expectations of the most important people in his or her life. The chef of the house sweats over stovetop and silverware, creating the perfect menu that will showcase their absolute success in life and please every palate at the table. After days of preparation, the plates hit the table and the host is suddenly fretting over the forgotten question…”Will this wine f*ck up my food?”
To pair a wine with Thanksgiving dinner, you need something that is friendly. This is to say that you don’t want a wine that is too extreme in any direction, else it might offend the flavors of your green bean casserole- or worse, your mother-in-law. Choose a wine pairing that is familiar and accessible. It could be a red wine or a white wine, but generally speaking, a medium-bodied wine with a healthy balance of fruit and earth will please everyone and everything at the Thanksgiving table. Use the list of wine pairings for your Thanksgiving meal below as inspiration!
Oh, you thought I was going to start with Beaujolais Nouveau? Your guests will too, so pop their expectations with something fun! Champagne is not exclusive to aperitifs and dessert (I personally go for Armagnac with dessert- Brut Champagne is too dry for most sugary dishes!). It is a complex wine, with toasty nuances and a zesty finish that cleans up your palate after every bite. It comes in a range of styles, from rich and oaky to zippy and sharp. It is one of the most versatile wines in the WORLD and most people know it’s time for a good time when bubbles are in their glass. The celebratory sentiment of Champagne is the perfect wine for the beginning of the meal and it can be enjoyed throughout the evening. Be sure to get the good stuff- dirt cheap sparkling is usually made by pumping carbonation into mass-produced still wine. Champagne and sparkling wines made with the traditional method are naturally bubbly, like kombucha. I.e.- No headache!
Ok, you win. Beaujolais is a delicious wine for Thanksgiving and a crowd pleasure for most meals. While Beaujolais Nouveau, the fruity wine released in November, has become synonymous with Thanksgiving, you’ll find much more complexity from a “cru” Beaujolais. These are from one of the 10 villages that are permitted to label the name of their town on a bottle from the region. The Gamay grape is the star here, with low tannin and an uplifted red fruit and floral profile. The slight spice and forest floor on the nose tames the fruit and enhances the pairing with savory items.
This fruity favorite is every bit as American as Beyoncé at half-time; the grape performs better in California than perhaps anywhere else on the world. Pre-prohibition vines still thrive, producing deep dried fruit, black pepper and fern aroma. The styles range wildly; avoid anything too heavy or oaky for Thanksgiving. Shop for a brighter, more balanced style.
Native to southern France but growing in popularity in regions such as California’s Central Coast and Australia’s McLaren Vale, Grenache juices up the palate without overshadowing the cuisine. The wine pairs well with food because it has body, lush fruit, and spice, but doesn’t have the same density as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. French or American styles both work well, provided there isn’t too much new oak (look for Cotes du Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape, or a coastal California producer).
Wines made from Gewurztraminer in Alsace have body, musk, and a surprising amount of fruit on the nose. Although lychee, orange marmalade, and guava are common aromatics on the nose, the wines are balanced by forest floor and star anise. These are a bit more generous in style and are commonly off-dry, which can actually be a lovely compliment to the sweeter profile of the roasted squash et. al. The wines are fun to drink at Thanksgiving dinner and jump with almost as much flavor as the holiday spread.
Thanksgiving isn’t about the perfect synergy of every personality at the table. Green beans mix with sweet potatoes and pecan pie. Aunt Bertha’s eyes soften while tossing anecdotes with her vegan niece. The perfect wine pairing for Thanksgiving isn’t about making every dish sparkle. Rather, it is about finding a wine that can pick up on something in most dishes without stealing the show. It’s about finding something that most people at the table will enjoy. The best Thanksgiving wine pairing is a wine that guests can sip without distraction- one that is easy to enjoy. And if it also is a wine that also avoids religion and politics, then we are really gravy.;)